On April 25, 2007, author Ann M. Martin participated in a chat with students, teachers, and fans. Ann is the author of the Baby-Sitters Club series and the new series Main Street. Other books include A Dog's Life, Snail Mail No More (with Paula Danziger), The Doll People series (with Laura Godwin), and A Corner of the Universe, which are loved by children and adults of all ages.
What's the best part about being an author?
Hmm . . . I think the best part about being an author is being able to use my imagination every single day.
What do you do about writer's block?
I have a good trick for writers block I learned a long time ago from another author. When I'm really stuck, I put away what I'm working on and don't look at it until the next day. I stop in the middle of the sentence, so the first thing I do the next day is finish that sentence. But I always write with an outline, and that helps me from getting stuck too often.
How long does it take you to write a book?
That depends on the book, some books have taken a long time to write. I think it took Laura Godwin and me almost five years to write the first Doll People book. The Baby-sitter's Club books each had to be written in one month because of the schedule, and I prefer to have at least a year or so to write a book.
Where do you usually write your books?
I can write anywhere, as long as it's very quiet, and as long as I have my computer. Lately I've been working in my dining room, which has a big table where I can spread out everything. I have piles of stuff everywhere! The table is good, and I can see out into the backyard where there's a lot of wildlife, which I enjoy.
Why did you want to become an author?
I became an author because I had enjoyed children's books when I was growing up. My parents read aloud to my sister and me. I was an avid reader and enjoyed writing. When I became an adult, I wanted to be able to write children's books when I grew up. They were a very important part of my childhood.
Are you going to write another book?
At the moment, I'm working on a new series called Main Street. There will be at least seven books in the series, and I'm working on the fifth one right now. So there will be a couple more. Laura Godwin and I are just finishing up the third book in the Doll People series, called The Runaway Dolls.
What is your favorite book you have ever written?
It changes from time to time, but I think it's probably A Corner of the Universe. That was probably the most personal, so most important to me.
When did you start writing?
I always enjoyed writing, even when I was very little. I started writing seriously after I had graduated from college, and my first book, Bummer Summer, was published in 1983.
Aside from Main Street, any non-series books in the wings? I loved A Corner of the Universe.
Thank you! Unfortunately, no, right now. I'm always thinking of more books, and there will definitely be more single titles, but I don't know what they are at the moment.
What is your favorite character overall?
OMG! You know, I couldn't choose a favorite character overall, but I usually have a favorite character in each series. But I don't think I can choose a favorite character overall.
Who inspired you to start writing?
I think I was mostly inspired by all the books I had read and by my parents who had encouraged me to read. As I was growing up there were certainly authors that inspired me, but not necessarily to write. I also had a lot of creative writing teachers, and they were a lot of help.
What advice would you give to kids that like to write and might be interested in writing books?
I have a few suggestions: One, be an eclectic reader. Familiarize yourself with all different kinds of writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism. Another thing is to keep a journal. It's good writing practice, but more importantly, a journal is a great source of story-starters. The complaint I hear from kids most often is they don't know what to write about, and you'll find that a journal is a great place to find story ideas.
Do you ever feel like you're done with the story after only one or two pages?
Not usually, and the reason that that doesn't happen often is that I always start off with an outline. I usually have a good idea of where the story is going. I've usually pretty much finished everything in the outline. For me, it takes me a long time to tie all the different threads and storylines, so I take some time on that. If the story was finished in just one or two pages, then I think I would set out to write a short story. Actually, I find short stories and pictures books much harder to write than novels. I'm not sure why!
Other than writing books, what do you like to do?
I have a number of hobbies. My favorite hobby is sewing, and I like to do other kinds of needlework, like knitting. I'm a big reader. I'm usually working on a book or two, and I belong to a book club.
Is it hard to write a series of books?
Writing a series of books is certainly different from writing a single novel. In some ways, it's like writing one LONG book! If you have an idea of where the series is going in general, plotting the book series can be like writing chapters of a single book. For Main Street, however, I only did that with the first four books (there will be at least three more). One thing I particularly enjoy about writing series is that I don't have to say goodbye to the characters. I know I'll be writing about them in the next book, and I like that.
How do you come up with the titles of your books?
I am actually not very good at titling my own books! I would say more often than not, I hand a book in with a "working title" because I haven't thought of a good one. My editors usually help come up with them. They came up with A Corner of the Universe, Here Today, and A Dog's Life. They've also come up with every Main Street title!
Who inspired you to write A Dog's Life?
Actually, my own dog Sadie was the inspiration for A Dog's Life! I adopted her when she was a puppy and she was born to a stray dog. Luckily, the stray dog was rescued right before she gave birth to the puppies. Sadie was such a shy, timid tog, and I always wondered what would have happened if she was born in the wild and if she would have survived, so that was the inspiration for A Dog's Life.
Are you going to make a sequel to A Dog's Life?
A lot of kids have asked me about that! I have some ideas for it, but nothing specific in mind right now. I guess it would be more like a "companion book," where it's about the other characters, like Bone or the mom dog. Those are good ideas, but I don't have a special idea in mind right now.
Why do you tell about Bone and Squirrel getting hurt?
Unfortunately, because that's something very common that happens to stray animals. There are some people who don't understand animals and aren't kind to them. I wanted people to learn about that, maybe spread the word that we should be kind to animals. Also, my cat, Willie, I adopted him after someone actually did to HIM what happened to Bone and Squirrel. Someone threw him and another cat out of the car window. Luckily they were both unharmed and found good homes!
In A Dog's Life, what happened to Bone after Squirrel?
I don't really know! When my nephew, who was about 7 at the time, asked the question, he said, "You wrote the book, you should know!" But sometimes authors don't know what happened to the characters after the book. I think it's important that readers use their imaginations, and I felt that it was more important to tell Squirrel's story. That would be a good reason to go back and tell Bone's story, though!
How old is Sadie?
Sadie is 9. She just had her birthday. :)
How many pets do you have?
I have four pets! I have Sadie and three cats. I also take care of foster cats for an animal rescue shelter. So right now, I also have a foster cat named "Nutmeg" until we can find a permanent home for her.
How did you find the other authors to work with? And is it easier to write on your own or with someone else?
Good question! Both of the other authors I worked with, Laura Godwin and Paula Danzinger, were good friends of mine. In each case, we were looking for ways to work together. It's interesting — collaboration is just very different. There are some things that I liked, and some things I didn't like. In the case of working with Paula, I had to write very differently. We had completely different ways of writing. I love to outline and outline in great detail, and Paula hated to outline. We had to find a compromise and work together (I learned to not outline! It was a good lesson to be more free when writing).
When Laura and I worked together, it was a good experience for each other because both of us were trying something we would have never done if we were writing on our own. For Laura, it was writing for an older audience (she had only written picture books until we had started working on Doll People), and for me, I had never written fantasy. Without Laura, I probably would have never tried it.
Collaborating can help you try things you wouldn't have tried otherwise as an author, and I also like writing my own way.
Do you have any heroes? People you look up to, maybe influence you?
My father was definitely an influence. He is a cartoonist, and I saw how disciplined he was with a very creative job. I think that helped me as a writer after I left publishing. I find it takes a great deal of discipline to do what I do, and that's something I definitely learned from him. I drew on his example.
Did you write any picture books?
Yes, I have written one picture book called Leo the Magnificat, a story about a cat in a church, and I got to write about animals again, which I always enjoy.
Do you illustrate your books?
No, I don't. My dad is a wonderful illustrator, and he actually illustrated one of the BSC books! But I did not inherit any of his talent. =/
Will you be doing any book signings?
I'm actually going on tour to promote my new series, Main Street, starting next week (May 1–May 11, 2007). I'll be visiting kids in the New York/Tri-State area, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis.
We are learning how to capture the reader's attention when we write narrative stories. How do you capture the reader's attention and make them want to read on?
That can be done in lots of different ways! It can be done with humor, with conversation. Conversation can be a very compelling way to tell a story. It can come through in details and through things you might expect, like adventure and excitement in the story. There are lots and lots of ways to do that.
Hi Ann! I'm 18 now, and I still credit your Baby-sitter's Club books with fostering my love of reading. Here's my question: What is a typical workday like for you in terms of time spent writing new material, time spent editing what you had previously written, time devoted to other things, etc.? Do you write for a certain number of hours each day or until you finish a certain portion of the book?
Here's a breakdown of my day! I'm an early riser, I get up between 5:00 and 5:30. I sit down to work usually between 8:00 and 8:30 and I sort of ease myself into the day by answering emails first. By 9:00 I start to write in earnest, and on the current book I'm working on, until about lunchtime. Then I take a break, walk the dog, have lunch! The afternoon is devoted to editing things that I have already written or to outline future projects. By the very end of the afternoon, I turn my attention to all other matters, which is usually answering mail. There's LOTS of mail. I usually stop writing around 5:00 or 5:30, so it's a fairly regular workday.
Where do you live?
I live in upstate New York, in Ulster County.
When you were little, what did you want to be?
I wanted to be a teacher, and I did teach for one year, after I graduated from college. But by then writing was becoming more important, so after that one year, I entered the field of children's publishing.
Did you ever think that your Baby-sitter's Club books would become such a hit and you would make over 200 books including the Little Sister ones?
No, I had no idea when I began the series! It was supposed to be a four-book mini-series, with just four main characters. I had planned to write one book for each character, and that was supposed to be the end of the series! I was taken VERY MUCH by surprise.
Do you relate to Karen in any way or her family members?
Karen actually was one of my favorite characters in the BSC and BSC Little Sister. I think it's actually because Karen is so unlike me! She was my alter-ego. She was one of those funny, outgoing kids that I wish I could have been. I was much more like Mary Anne, the shy, quiet kid. Karen's family was not like mine, but it was a great deal of fun to write about her and her family.
When is the new series, Main Street, coming out?
The first book is just in stores right now! Book 1, Welcome to Camden Falls, has just been published. Number 2 will come out in August, and number 3 will be out in October. Number 4 will be sometime in 2008.
What grade/subject did you teach?
I taught at a small private school, and the class was a mix of 4th and 5th grade together. There were kids ranging in age from 8 to 13.
Have you ever written/published a book that you weren't completely satisfied with?
Gosh, not really. There were some books that took a lot longer than expected and were a lot harder to write, and some books just came easily. I have been really lucky to work with great editors that were patient enough to work with me on those harder books until we were both satisfied with them.
A Dog's Life is quite different from the Baby-sitter's Club. Which style of book is more challenging to write?
Well, by the time a series is well underway, the books are not as challenging to write. But the first few books in the series can be just as challenging as writing a single novel. The challenge between BSC #1 and A Dog's Life were about the same. The book I did think was the most challenging was A Corner of the Universe, because it was the most personal.
How do you like to write? Would you rather write mystery, fiction, nonfiction, etc.?
The genre I feel most comfortable with is realistic fiction. I love reading mysteries, but I find them very difficult to create. I've had a lot of fun writing fantasy, but the genre that comes most naturally to me is realistic fiction.
What advice do you give kids who want to be writers when they grow up?
I think one important thing is to become familiar with all different kinds of writing so you can be a more discerning reader and writer. It's helpful to keep a journal for writing practice, and more importantly, it's a great source for story ideas.
To explore A Dog's Life, you can visit the Flashlight Readers activity.